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Don’t Look Up ••••

Movie Greg Scott
Don’t Look Up

SPOILERS WITHIN

Don’t Look Up

Don’t Look Up
Don't_Look_Up_2021_film

scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, don’t look now but Don’t Look Up needs to be reviewed.

I had to look it up online to find out what all the fuss was about. Let’s recap:

The story begins in the Astronomy Department at Michigan State University, where doctoral student Kate Dibiasky discovers a new comet the size of Mt. Everest heading toward our solar system. Her PhD advisor, Dr. Randall Mindy, performs calculations and discovers that the comment will collide with the Earth in six months. The two scientists inform the US government and schedule a meeting with US President Jane Orlean.

The meeting doesn’t go well. The President only sees this as a problem to put on her backlog. But her Chief of Staff sees it as an opportunity to advance the President’s agenda for the upcoming election. Dr. Mindy becomes the “sexiest scientist” and works the talk show circuit and begins an affair with a talk show host. Dibiasky goes into hiding after she blows up on TV and shows the comet in the night sky. The politicians don’t want to panic the world, so they tell everyone “don’t look up” because the comet is a hoax.

Greg, Don’t Look Up is one of the darkest movies I’ve ever seen. It’s billed as a black comedy, but there is a massive, palpable cloud of depressing realism that overpowers the attempts at dark humor. The movie exposes everything that is wrong with the current state of humanity. In bold relief we see our anti-science arrogance, elitism, narcissism, superficiality, greed, materialism, and obsession with short term pleasures.

If all those defects weren’t enough, Don’t Look Up underscores the immense denial we are in about all these major afflictions. The film correctly depicts our society as head-in-the-sand childish and foolish. Science-deniers are everywhere in this movie and in our real lives. Should we laugh or cry that the average character in this movie cares more about how many “likes” or “subscribers” they get than about the well-being of the planet or the ultimate fate of the human race?

This is not a Hollywood version of who we are. This is who we truly are.

Alas, there is an uncomfortable amount of not-so-funny realism in the depiction of US media and our political leadership. Let’s start with the media. Don’t Look Up targets the media as pitifully shallow and harmful to society. Media outlets and media celebrities are portrayed in the film as appallingly shallow and dimwitted. There is no willingness or ability for the media to look out for the best interests of their consumers. It’s all about clicks, likes, retweets, and ratings. Yes, this is what we are.

With regard to Don’t Look Up’s portrayal of US leadership, well, I felt very sorry for Meryl Streep. She may be the GOAT, as Jonah Hill reminds us, but in this film she’s stuck playing a one-dimensional President, a horrible human motivated only by power and fame. Sound familiar? Streep’s role doesn’t allow her remarkable acting ability any room to maneuver or shine. Her character’s name is Jane Orlean, a person every bit as pathetic as the worst president we have seen in real life. It’s a shame that a woman in the oval office is depicted as so shallow, foolish, and inept. The science of leadership shows that most women leaders are better than this, and so I wish a traditional old white male had been cast in this role.

I was fairly nonplussed by Don’t Look Up. It was written and directed by Adam McKay who is well-known for his work with Will Ferrell (Stepbrothers). His comedy chops are evident and the comedy is pretty good. But his liberal bias is showing. The President, Chief of Staff and the technology wizard are comedy tropes. They are shallow, stupid, vapid, and just unappealing. Whereas the scientists Mindy and Dibiasky are exposed as sensitive and intelligent.

The technology wizard Peter Isherwell convinces the President that the asteroid has potential as a goldmine of minerals. So instead of destroying it, they decide to break it into pieces and cultivate it. In the end, that plan fails and he and the President escape to a distant planet.

The humor seemed wildly misplaced in this black comedy. The Isherwell character was bizarre – not resembling anyone I know in the tech sector. He seemed more like a guru than a technology leader. McKay is a brilliant comedy talent, but I think he missed the mark here. Making these “leaders” look like buffoons masked the real horror of their actions. If he had gone for more realistic “West Wing” character types, the film would have been more coherent.

Greg, I agree about the political leaders in this film resembling comedy tropes. But in my mind, that’s what’s happened to our current crop of leaders. And I also agree about Mark Rylance’s portrayal of Peter Isherwell – it’s very odd and disquieting. Maybe that was the point. Maybe we’re supposed to be disturbed. Check out this exchange from the movie:

President Orlean :  So how certain is this?

Dr. Randall Mindy :  There’s 100% certainty of impact.

President Orlean :  Please, don’t say 100%.

Old Aide #2 :  Can we just call it a potentiality significant event?

President Orlean :  Yeah.

Kate Dibiasky :  But it isn’t potentially going to happen. It is going to happen.

Dr. Randall Mindy :  Exactly, 99.78% to be exact.

Jason Orlean :  Oh, great. Okay, so it’s not 100%.

Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe :  Well, scientists never like to say 100%.

President Orlean :  Call it 70% and let’s just move on.

This conversation would be funny if it were not so tragically real to life. The only two characters who appear to be worthy, rational humans are DiCaprio’s character, Randall Mindy, and J-Law’s character Kate Dibiasky. Teddy Oglethorpe is also a reasonable scientist but his character is largely muted and ignored. Dibiasky herself is ostracized and culture-canceled when she blurts out that the Emperor Has No Clothes. Because no one wants to hear the message, the benign white male (Mindy) is appointed the figurehead spokesperson, because “he polls higher” than other scientists. Mindy’s a castrated Dr. Fauci, easily manipulated and diminished into irrelevancy, allowing our shallow world to blindly saunter down the path of annihilation.

I also struggled to understand the analogy to current events. On one hand it seemed like a commentary on climate change. On the other it seemed to be about our current pandemic crisis. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be so on-the-nose as to be a direct comparison to modern problems. It does seem to be an accurate and unsettling account of what would happen if we had a new catastrophe on the horizon.

The final scene with Dr. Mindy’s family sitting around the table, holding hands, enjoying a last meal together says it best: “We had it all.” It’s hard to realize what a wonderful, amazing world we live in – when we are living on it every day. It’s not until we are at risk of actually losing everything that we finally value our planet most.

There’s a phenomenon that astronauts experience when they view the Earth from orbit. “The Overview Effect” is the sense of awe and wonder they experience when they can see the beauty and fragility of our planet against the backdrop of infinite space. They get a sense of how very rare the Earth is, and how very easily we could lose it all. This is what “Don’t Look Up” ultimately delivers. The sense of just how much we have, and how easily we could lose it all.

The performances here are star-quality. Everyone delivers their A-game. The script is much better than most McKay films. I wish he had gone for more subtle humor, but that’s my bias. I give “Don’t Look Up” 4 out of 5 Reels. Our scientists Mindy and Dibiasky are first-class heroes. Mindy falls from grace as he becomes a media darling, but redeems himself in the end. Dibiasky is the most clear-headed of the lot: recognizing the inherent danger, but ultimately dismissed both because of her youth and gender. I give them 5 Heroes.

Well said, Greg. I give this movie some credit for recognizing the world’s need for a hero to rescue us all from calamity. But alas, the need for heroism is packaged in the service of attracting more likes, ratings, and presidential image-building. President Orlean could have sent a human-free explosive to deflect the comet but instead chooses Benedict Drask to “man” the mission because he has a “great voice” and a “great body”. Groan. Again, this is too close to the truth.

The best plan to eliminate the threat is, of course, scrapped in favor of a more risky plan to mine the comet for precious metals that will make a multi-billionaire more rich. This super-billionaire, Peter Isherwell, is a single-character amalgamation of today’s space billionaires – Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk. Isherwell shows us why so many rich, powerful CEOs are psychopaths. And if making Isherwell richer weren’t enough, President Orlean becomes a denier that the comet poses any threat at all. Again, this isn’t funny; it’s tragic. Political leaders turning planetary health issues into political issues has been the norm in the US for years now.

The question we should ask is whether this is a world worth saving. After all, the main media headline asks whether there will be a super bowl instead of whether there will be a planet Earth. Of course the answer is yes, the Earth is worth saving, which leads to the next daunting question of how can we save ourselves from our own stupidity.

Greg, I’m glad you mentioned that very moving scene when all is lost and Dr. Mindy and Dibiasky are having dinner with family and friends moments before the comet obliterates the planet. Their reminiscences are warm, authentic, human. When Mindy says, “We really did have everything, didn’t we,” the message is clear – human beings take their planet for granted, leading to all kinds of abuses and irreparable damage to our only home.

For its effective satirical portrayal of the deep sickness of our society, I give this movie 4 Reels out of 5. Our heroes Mindy and Dibiasky are worthy heroes who are willing to stand up to this sickness. They merit 4 hero points out of 5.

Movie Greg Scott
Don’t Look Up

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